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Body Odor

All people smell when they don't bathe often enough. If you bathe regularly and have an odor, something is wrong. The most common cause of body odor is a skin infection. Sweat doesn't smell when it first reaches your skin. The odor comes only after bacteria or fungus on the skin's surface break down the fat in sweat to form chemicals that smell.

Most sweat glands produce sweat that contains no fat, but the sweat glands around the breasts, genitals and armpits produce sweat that contain fat. Most people can prevent body odor by washing these areas frequently to reduce the number of bacteria on the skin's surface and by keeping the skin dry afterward. Use deodorants that contain low levels of bacteria-killing metals, such as aluminum, zinc and zirconium. You can also kill bacteria by using special antibacterial soaps and by applying antibiotic creams.

What if you bathe regularly and still smell? An ammonia odor is caused by infection with helicobacter, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers, or by eating too much protein. Ask your doctor to draw a blood test for helicobacter. If it is positive, you can be cured with antibiotics. If it is negative, you may need to eat less meat, fish, chicken and dairy products. When you take in more protein than your body can use immediately, your body strips ammonia from protein to make you smell like ammonia. A fish odor is caused by taking choline, a pill sold at health food stores; by a hereditary condition called trimethylaminuria that requires avoiding fish and other dietary sources of choline; or a vaginal infection caused by a bacteria called Gardnerella.

Ruocco V, Florio M. Fish-odor syndrome: an olfactory diagnosis. International J of Dermatology 1995(Feb);34(2):92-3.

Checked 12/3/12

June 1st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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